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New Left Review 60, November-December 2009


erik olin wright

UNDERSTANDING CLASS

Towards an Integrated Analytical Approach

When I began writing about class in the mid-1970s, I viewed Marxist and positivist social science as foundationally distinct and incommensurable warring paradigms. I argued that Marxism had distinctive epistemological premises and methodological approaches which were fundamentally opposed to those of mainstream social science. In the intervening period I have rethought the underlying logic of my approach to class analysis a number of times. [1] An early statement of my views on Marxism and mainstream social science can be found in the introduction to Class, Crisis and the State, London 1978. The principal subsequent works in which I have discussed these issues are Classes, London and New York 1985; The Debate on Classes, London and New York 1989; Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis, Cambridge 1997; and Approaches to Class Analysis, Cambridge 2005. A previous version of this paper was given at a conference on ‘Comprehending Class’, University of Johannesburg, June 2009. While I continue to work within the Marxist tradition, I no longer conceive of Marxism as a comprehensive paradigm that is inherently incompatible with ‘bourgeois’ sociology. [2] I prefer to use the expression ‘Marxist tradition’ rather than ‘Marxism’ precisely because the latter suggests something more like a comprehensive paradigm.

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